(It's a funny thing: I always have trouble remembering the title of this story accurately. I keep thinking it's "If All Men were Brothers, Would You Want One to Marry Your Sister?" instead of "...Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" Because, of course, in the civilized world, men do not have veto power over their sisters' choice in husbands.)
Anyway, I'd like to add a few supplementary observations to kaffir's excellent writeup supra. I'm going to have some rather pointed things to say, so let me begin by saying that this is a really good story. I'd tell you that it's very well written, but it's by Theodore Sturgeon, so you know that already. And it certainly is provocative. So I'd like to think of my writeup as being part of the "fruitful argument" Sturgeon hoped his yarn would engender.
See, I think it's possible to accept Sturgeon's picture of Vexvelt as a healthy, even blissful, world, and yet to believe that if you took our current society and magically removed its incest taboo without changing anything else, the result would be disastrous. I have nothing to say about the genetic consequences; I just don't know enough about the prevalence of harmful recessive genes, and I'm prepared to accept that whatever the risk of two-headed offspring is, it's low enough that it can't sensibly form the basis for a universal ban on non-procreative as well as procreative incestuous unions. But I'd like to point out three facts about Vexvelt that strike me as being socially important:
- Vexveltians are polyamorous.
- Vexveltians are all drop-dead gorgeous.
- On Vexvelt, sex is No Big Deal.
Clearly, these facts are all interrelated, and I think Sturgeon (or rather Vorhidin, the story's most articulate advocate for incest) could argue that the third one, in particular, is at least as much a consequence of the acceptance of incest as it is a prerequisite for it. (The argument would, however, probably turn on some Freudian ideas about which I am highly skeptical.) But I don't think an incest-tolerant society can work without at least #1 and #3 (and #2 woud certainly help a great deal), and if you need incest to get you to #3, well, then, you can't get there from here (which is what Charli Bux is told, in a much more literal way, when he tries to book passage to Vexvelt for his vacation).
Life on Vexvelt goes something like this:
Suppose a man and a woman get married and have a daughter. She grows up to be nubile and capable of informed consent and all that jazz, and her father gets the hots for her. He's in luck, because even though he's her old man, he's drop-dead gorgeous (#2), so she's into it, and he doesn't have to divorce his wife to pursue his daughter, because they're all polyamorous (#1), and in fact his wife isn't even mildly annoyed about it, because sex is No Big Deal (#3).
Or suppose a teenage girl's brother starts coming on to her. If she's not interested, she can just decline, and it won't be at all awkward going on living in the same house with him, because sex is No Big Deal (#3). But then, why wouldn't she be interested? After all, he's gorgeous (#2) and sex is No Big Deal (#3)—it's just another way of showing affection—and it's not like it would interfere with her relationships with any of her other boyfriends (#1).
This doesn't sound much like our world minus the incest taboo, does it? In our world, it's really important, for a variety of reasons, to be able to get the hell away from someone with whom you used to have sex but don't want to anymore, or someone who wants to have sex with you but with whom you don't want to have sex. And it can be difficult to get away from your family. You can break up with your brother, but he doesn't stop being your brother. So removing the incest taboo would not be a first step toward a Vexveltian-style sexual utopia.
What would be a better first step? Well, if we could magically change one thing about sex in today's society, how about abolishing rape? How about making sure that no man anywhere is under the misapprehension that he has some kind of right to sexual access to any woman he fancies? And that no woman anywhere is under the misapprehension that she has some kind of obligation to have sex with a man who fancies her when she doesn't really want to? It seems—it damned well should seem—perfectly obvious that rape is wrong, and yet somehow not everyone in our society is willing to act on that truth. Now, how do we fix this? How far away are we from abolishing rape? Because unless we can do that, I don't think we can achieve a society in which sex is No Big Deal—not if there are still guys out there who use sex as a weapon. If we can't even get everyone to agree to the simple truth that everyone has an absolute right to say no to sex, then we can't get anywhere near the carefree, polyamorous, generally un-fucked-up paradise of Vexvelt.
I'll be an Uncle Fucka in the post-patriarchy.
Addendum: Unperson has drawn my attention to the node Fear of sex is the power of rape, in which futurebird, hobyrne, TheLady, and davoroy have some interesting things to say about the idea that rape would lose (much of) its particular terror if sex were No Big Deal—that it would then be just another kind of assault. It's an interesting idea, and I think that perhaps the elimination of rape and the demystification of sex might be mutual co-requisites.